“But what silence! No more gazelles…”: Occurrence and extinction of fauna in Lesotho, southern Africa, since the late Pleistocene

Stefan Grab, David Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the historical dynamics of wildlife distribution and abundance is essential to developing appropriate conservation measures. Here we investigate the occurrence and status of medium- to large-sized fauna (excluding avifauna) for the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and immediate adjoining regions of South Africa, from the late Pleistocene to the present-day. We provide historical timelines and records of reported medium to large faunal taxa based on: data from eight published archaeological excavations, analyses of several hundred unpublished 19th and 20th century historical documents (including missionary letters, diaries, colonial reports and newspapers), and 58 recent oral history interviews. Vegetation and climate changes through the Holocene are also noted, based on archaeo-botanical records. Through these sources, we record 61 medium to large faunal species for Lesotho and surrounding regions over the past ~21 ka, of which only 22 are present today. Some species not previously known to the region are documented (e.g. Temminck’s pangolin). Most species were present during the early 19th century, but many regional species extinctions and a major faunal population decline occurred between 1845 and 1850, owing mainly to settler hunting campaigns. Subsequent extinctions have taken place over a wider temporal interval, due to factors including overhunting, human-wildlife conflicts and habitat loss. It seems that some taxa were forced into unsuitable mountain refugia where species eventually succumbed to genetic erosion and/or harsh climatic conditions. Our results increase current understanding of regional faunal and environmental changes, such as the timing of species occurrences and extinction events and processes in Lesotho. Such work adds valuable knowledge to understanding the environmental heritage of the region. Information can be disseminated into wildlife records, national environmental reports, the WWF, the national school environmental educational curriculum and to National Parks and Heritage Sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-105
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by British Academy Small Grant SG-40838 . We thank the Département Français pour l’Action Apostolique, Council for World Mission for permission to use quotations. We thank Dr David Ambrose for sharing his insights and knowledge with us. Puleng Morake is thanked for assistance with oral interviews and Sesotho language translations. Dr Stephanie Mills kindly assisted with the analysis of Paris Evangelical Missionary Society materials and provided French to English language translations, which are much appreciated. Many thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and guest editor who provided valuable suggestions that have helped improve the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • faunal distribution
  • mammals
  • Lesotho
  • faunal extinction
  • Mammals
  • Faunal extinction
  • Faunal distribution


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